So you’re working with some fairly difficult characters – within a youth club setting, within a church, a school. Have we got any ideas to help you? Events? Activities? Strategies? For some strategies go to the ‘Basics’ page and drop down to ‘Classroom management’)

Practical Actions

– Get people to stand up and make it clear who they are. After they do this, reflect back on how they sounded and how they could improve their public image. Encourage people to stand up, speak clearly, be confident. 

– Exercise where people have to communicate to each other using masks. This will encourage people to be able to communicate more effectively. Sit down and explain why they are doing this.

– Ways of presenting information have to change, especially with short-attention spans and lively individuals. Interactivity within a controlled context is a way ahead. So, for example, practical exercises that involve getting up and moving around. The use of music within the sessions is another way.


Do an activity away from their area and comfort zone. This can be a challenge and needs proper staffing and rules. We took a group sailing overnight on a boat. Another group went for 5 days. This really helped those who went (especially those who stayed on for the 5 days).

What about meeting up with them on neutral territory, perhaps one leader meeting a couple young people for a coke or a coffee in a public place. Again, transport and rules can be a problem as they are excited about the freedom so if you keep it to key individuals (without showing favouritism) and keep it tight. 

Going some way to meet the family, or at least to learn more about the family and show an interest in supporting to whatever level you feel is acceptable and that you can deal with. However, don’t get dragged into family conflicts at any cost. At the end of the day, your job is to remain connected – usually to the young person – but this must be done carefully and wisely.

You could even consider taking the young person away on a trip abroad, especially if it means doing something that will involve helping people and hard work. Seeing the poverty of others abroad especially children, can really clear a person’s head and help them change for the positive.


Organising something that will show off the talents of those young people – perhaps in school or in the youth club – to teachers, friends, families. For example if they have attended say 2 days sailing (see above) then organise an awards night they have to attend where they or you can speak about what went on and then get presented with a certificate in front of family.

If you are doing an event, get them involved in an area of interest where appropriate – lighting, sound, emceeing, DJ-ing, computers, singing or whatever the interests. skills are.

Take them to do work in a place where they will find it fairly challenging – a creche, a hospice, a charity for people with mental illness. I know it sounds irresponsible and that there are rules and regulations that have to be adhered to but it’s about uprooting them from what is easy and where they are the ‘big man’ or whatever, and landing them somewhere that means character is forced out of them. 

Strategies for coping 

Apart from the ones listed in the excluded section, do we have any other ideas:

1. Enforcement of discipline. As experienced youth workers know, youth work is not just about doing what the young people want or getting on with them as one of them, it’s about leading, shaping, character building, empowering, training, supporting. Discipline matters as without it they won’t be a success in life.

2. Showing your character and strengths, weaknesses, vulnerabilities (without revealing too much) can help disarm and help connect with a teenager struggling with something that you’ve struggled with for example.

3. Doing things together as a team. This is why doing fun stuff is great but it must go hand in hand with other things like weekends away, residentials, visits, trips etc. But obviously being careful who goes and how it is approached and staffed. 

4. Push them beyond themselves. Many young people have low self esteem and belief, low confidence. If you show them and help them to succeed it makes a big difference. One word, one look, one pat on the back – could change a life. 

5. Believe in them. While many have not been believed in or trusted before, show that you believe. As the saying says – they won’t care what you know until they know that you care. It’s called unconditional tough love, the kind that a parent should show to a child. The kind that perhaps some of them have not experienced before they met you.